The Power of Little Gestures


By Gary Young, GaryYoungInk

A week ago, my wife, Pam, and I were in the Newark airport awaiting our flight home to Minneapolis.  Pam noticed two military men having a sandwich before their own flight. Seeing that that they didn’t have anything to drink, she said, “I’m going to ask them if I can get them anything.”  My initial reaction was that familiar tug of Minnesota self-effacement.  (Like Garrison Keillor of “A Prairie Home Companion” noted, “Jesus said the meek would inherit the earth, but so far all we’ve gotten is Minnesota and North Dakota.”)

Then I thought, such a little gesture would probably go a long way in expressing our appreciation.

A Little Thanks
One should never underestimate the power of small gestures. The impact can make a huge difference. For example, I read recently that former Nabisco CEO Douglas Conant made it a point every day to write five to ten personal notes of gratitude to employees and others. What’s better than receiving a handwritten thank-you note – especially when it’s unexpected?

In The Manager’s Book of Decencies: How Small Gestures Build Great Companies, author Steve Harrison cites a number of little decencies we can do in the workplace. At the top of the list is “Remember to say thank you-or better yet, write thank you notes.” Others include:

  • Greet coworkers authentically and personally
  • For meetings you convene, be the first to sit down and the last to get up
  • Welcome visitors by name. Better yet call them “guests”
  • Answer your own telephone
  • Give away recognition when things go well; hoard responsibility when they don’t
  • Convey bad news in person
  • When you make a mistake, admit it and apologize

A Little Compliment
From a PR standpoint, I’ve learned that small gestures can go a long way in developing relationships. With media, for example, the simple acknowledgement of a well-written or -produced story can be particularly meaningful. You’d be surprised how seldom reporters or producers get positive feedback. (Negative feedback is not that rare, however.) One caveat: make sure the compliment is sincere, as the media have built in insincerity-detectors. (Well, they often use a different term.)

Give a Little
A small donation can also make a huge difference in the life of someone in need. The victims of this week’s Oklahoma tornado come to mind. A small contribution — like donating $10 by texting REDCROSS to 90999; texting STORM to Salvation Army at 80888; or by texting FOOD to Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma at 32333 — can collectively make a huge difference to lighten someone’s load.

The Ripple Effect
There is a real ripple effect that is created by small decencies. And what better time to kick it off than Memorial Day weekend? As we take time to honor men and women who served in the US Military, let’s remember to keep these small kindnesses going.

Even if it’s only offering a couple of Cokes to traveling soldiers.

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